Monday, September 26, 2011

TOS Review - Hideaway Country Kitchen


Let's just get down to the brass tacks, people - I LOVE THIS PLAY KITCHEN!! My kids and nieces have given me many hours of enjoyment just watching them play house together. They have cooked countless meals, washed innumerable dishes, served up gourmet meals - all with huge smiles and lots of love. I couldn't get these kinds of results with my real-life kitchen helpers, let me tell ya! ;)

The Guidecraft Hideaway Country Kitchen is a sturdy, wooden, fold-it-up and hide-it-away play set for $200. I admit, I would normally cringe at the price tag, but after seeing how well this product is constructed, and knowing how long it will last, I highly recommend it.

The product folds up to a slim six inches - perfect for under a bed or in a closet.

The package was delivered to my house in very good condition. It was packed within three boxes, so I was sure there would be no dents or anything. We weren't sure how much assembly would be required, but soon found out - a lot! :) Nothing too hard, though. In fact, Connor did the majority of the assembly.

My little man hard at work!

For future purchasers, take note: HAVE A POWER DRILL HANDY!! We did not, so it took us about 2 to 3 hours. If you have experience in assembling toys and a power drill, you could put it together in less than an hour. The only part that was troublesome for us was the stove knobs. I am still worried they will loosen up and fall off, but we shall see...

The stove knobs were a real booger to get on there!

One thing that did concern me was that I couldn't find any instructions. It wasn't a problem, however. I just got on Guidecraft's website and pulled the assembly instructions right up. I thought maybe they were going green like so many other companies. However when we got to the bottom of the hardware box, we found them. Better late than never, I guess!

We did it! And look at all the storage - you could fit two 3-year-olds in there! Seriously, I've seen it done...

Once we got it together, we scoured the house for toy dishes. I must say, I didn't think that would be a problem. But I guess anything we've had in the past had been lost or broken. So they used tupperware and old spoons of mine till I could pick up some nifty food and dish toys. They have really enjoyed this toy. I love it when they can act out what they see us doing; playacting is so important to toddler development. And I think I may be raising some great future chefs...not to mention an awesome carpenter!

** Don't just take my word for it! Check out what some of my fellow TOS Crew Members had to say here.

** Disclaimer: I received this product via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own and my children's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...

is a cute little thing I've seen some blogger friends doing. I think it's a great idea, and I'm going to give it a go. If something cool has happened over the week, I'll use that. If it's been a boring, mundane, do-nothing week...oh, wait, we NEVER have one of those around here! But more likely than not, I usually won't be able to find my camera to freeze in time all the crazy antics my goofballs cook up! But I am going to try and do better! :D

So for tonight, I'm going to post a pic from a looong time least it seems like a long time ago, because I REALLY want to go back to Disney World now - NOT wait till 2013!!! Sorry, I'm feeling sorry for on to Wordless Wednesday! But now it's become WORDY Wednesday, since I wrote so much of a stinkin' intro! What can I say, I'm a talker by nature, so blogging is my outlet. Not sure if I'm gonna be able to do this... :/

Most magical place on earth

Love the little touches!

Our home away from home!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TOS Review - Encouragement for Homeschool Moms


"You homeschool?? You must be crazy!"

"You can always send them to public school if it's too much for you!"

"I don't know why you are tired. You're not a working mom!"

Ever heard any of these comments? I'm sure if you homeschool, you have - plus a million others. And if you are anything like me, it has been discouraging and hard to keep the smile on your face or find the appropriate, love-sprinkled response. The fact is that yes, I homeschool my children. No, I am not least not completely. And no, I'm NOT home all day. But when I am, I am teaching four different grades at one time, plus balancing a dozen other things. Some days, I just need someone or something to lift me up instead of push me down. Deeper Roots Publications has published a little book that has done exactly that.


"Encouragement for Homeschool Moms" ($7.95) is a 31-day devotional that speaks directly to the heart of homeschooling moms, written by a homeschooling mom. Bonnie Lisech has been in my shoes. She understands what I'm feeling on those chaotic days when nothing has kept to schedule. And she also knows that the life we have been called to is amazing, precious, and honors our Heavenly Father. She attaches relevant scripture to topics I deal with on a daily basis. Feel overwhelmed? Inadequate? Like a failure? I know I do at times. Regardless of outsider's opinions, those of us who homeschool know it is hard.

With EFHM, these small moments with Jesus have turned my mood around. On the mornings that I've been in His Word before we start our busy day, I'm more settled. I'm in a better frame of mind and have more joy in my life. These scripture lessons are short, sweet and straight to the point - or heart, as it seems for me. I so wish I was a better organizer of my time. I wish I had an hour or more to spend with my Father every day. But the fact is, I don't. I try to make it a priority, but I inevitably fail after a few days. With EFHM, I spent 10 to 20 minutes in the Bible while the kids ate their cereal. If I couldn't finish the journaling, I didn't beat myself up. I think quality more than quantity of time is emphasized with this little devotional. Making Him my top priority at the beginning of the day reminded me that He's right alongside me ALL day long.

Here are Bonnie's words: "My prayer is that these studies in God's Word will build you up and cause you to be the example of Christ to your children that only knowing God intimatley can produce." I believe this book will bless your heart. Or you could bless a friend!

My little blessings! God has given Kelly and me such a huge responsiblity, but such a blessed life...

** To check out more Deeper Roots reviews from my fellow TOS bloggers, click here.

** Disclaimer: I received a copy of "Encouragement for Homeschool Moms" via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Big IQ Kids - A TOS Review


Big IQ Kids is an online learning program for ages 5 to 105. They offer spelling, vocabulary, math and geography lessons. They have won some awards in the online community (including the TOS Blue Ribbon Award), and we can see why! While it took us a week or so to warm up to this new site - I'll explain why in a minute - the kids now really enjoy their time on Big IQ Kids.

There are many price options to this site, ranging from free, to upgraded monthly prices, to premium yearly costs. We were granted a one-year premium membership in exchange for my review, which gave us access to all of the programs. The Spelling/Vocabulary programs are free, with specialized programs starting at $7.99 a month. The Math programs have specialized premium programs starting at $9.99 a month. The Premium US States Program is $39.99 a year. They have even added an SAT vocabulary prep program to their already great list of tools. Now, while my children ARE geniuses (wink, wink), I didn't feel that this section would benefit any of them at this time!

So here's a basic rundown of how the kids used BIQK:

First time logging in, you get to make a BIQK buddy.
Isn't she cute? I'm gonna call her LOLA!

Your buddy joins you while you learn your lessons and play your games...but I'm rushing. First you have to choose your lesson. Let's start with math.
This is a screenshot of early level math. Connor and Chloe's lessons looked much different than this.

In math, you basically get five pages of drills at a time. It doesn't really teach you any math concepts, but it is good practice for skills your kids have already learned. The one thing that some kids may not like is that you have to answer your problems by smallest place value first. So if the problem is 62 - 37, you would NOT type in 25. You would type in 5 in the ones place and 2 in the tens place. Fortunately, my kids picked up on this quickly because our math program has always worked from smallest place value to greater. But it is a little tricky when drilling.

Now, moving on to spelling and vocabulary.

You have options here. I love options! You can plug in your own lessons, or BIQK will generate grade appropriate spelling lists for you. I will admit, this part of the program was a little hard for me to get excited about. Connor is not a great speller. We have been using something for a little while that he is happy with, and he doesn't like change all that well. I convinced him to give it a try. He actually got very excited when he went through the first lesson. The computer tutor says the word. You click enter. It shows you the word. You click again. It puts the word into a sentence. You click AGAIN. It gives you the definition. CLICK AGAIN. And you spell the word. With all of that information in a column above where you are typing. I mean directly above, on the same screen, AS YOU TYPE. So basically, you are copying the word.

Connor was stoked! He thought this was the best spelling program ever! Who wouldn't like it, when it lets you see the answers? ;) But little did he know...that is just the first lesson! (Insert evil laugh here!) He only thought it would continue to be so easy. The next lessons weren't that easy. But that's okay, because you can customize your choices here, too. There are many ways for the student to learn their words, and you can decide which ones work for your child and which ones don't. You can also choose what they should score before moving on to a new lesson. The computer defaults to 90%, but I lowered it to 85%. The reason being that some lists had only 8 or nine words in them. If they missed one thing, even if it's a simple mistake like letting go of the mouse button too quickly and dropping a word into the wrong sentence, it won't let them advance.

Last but not least, they have their states section.

M-I-crooked letter, crooked letter, I - crooked letter, crooked letter, I - hump back, hump back, I! Heehee!

Oh, this is so great! Chloe's third grade history at co-op this year is states and capitals!! I love it when things work out like that! ;) This program is very neat. First, you get to click on a state on the US map. It will tell you the capital, the abbreviation for that state, and several fun facts about that state. Did you know that New Hampshire is known as the granite state? Or that the US government owns more than half of the land in Idaho? Neither did I! I love learning along with my kiddos - makes me feel good about myself. ;)

After each lesson is completed, the student earns a coin. They are allowed to spend them on any of the games in the game menu. They can play until their coins run out, or until mom cuts them off! It's a great reward system for getting their work done.

Now for the part we don't like, which is what took us the longest to get used to. There is a "computer tutor" that gives your instructions, reads your spelling words to you, and teaches you through all the lessons. It is terrible. I mean, terrible. It is such a generic, monotone voice, that it literally reminded me of the computer's voice in the movie, War Games. Honestly, it bothered me MUCH more than it bothered the kids! And eventually, I got over it...or left the room!

Overall, this has been one of the best sites we have found. It combines learning with fun, interactive lessons that all my kids have enjoyed, and I expect to use the site for a long time to come. Give it a try, you'll be so glad you did! To check out the site, click here.

**Check out what some other TOS Crew Members thought of Big IQ Kids!

**Disclaimer: I received a free membership from Big IQ Kids via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own and my children’s.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Must Read

My dear friend, Cori, is a busy mama of 5 - correction, now 9!! - and a real woman after God's heart. She has an amazing story, a beautiful testimony, and a love for Jesus that has been through the Refiner's Fire. On this somber weekend, she has more to grieve and deal with than anyone else I know. But through it all, she never ceases to amaze me with her unwavering confidence that our Heavenly Father has it all in His hands. Read her story, and follow her blog. I know she will bless your heart.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Time 4 Learning, A Review for TOS Crew

Have you ever had the desire so strong to try something, but something always came up and prevented it? Whether it's a new restaurant or a shoe store, a park or a workout class, we've all been there. And homeschool curriculum is no exception. I've seen reviews, looked at sample lessons and received emails from Time 4 Learning since Connor was a kindergartner. I have always thought it looked like fun, but I always found a reason not to give it a try. Until this year. When T4L came up on the Vendor Interest Form, I was on it like white on rice, let me tell ya!


To give you a heads up on T4L, it is a secular online curriculum with the motto, "Homeschool curriculum, after school, summer use". They have programs developed for PreK to 8th grade, covering the subjects language arts, math, science and social studies. The cost is $19.99 per month for one child, $14.99 for each additional child. They have parent forums, lesson plans, a getting started guide, and much more. In fact, there is so much to look at and explore, three weeks is not nearly enough time for me to have gotten a handle on it all!

This is an example of the tools available to you as a parent. They compile progress reports for each child, so you have all records ready and available to print. What a time saver!

As for the kids, they have enjoyed T4L. It has been a nice break from a few days of subjects, but I can't see it being a full curriculum. While it covers the four core subjects, I didn't feel there was a strong enough emphasis on spelling in Canon's grade (2nd) or grammar in Chloe's grade (3rd).

Canon has spent the most time on the site, and he really liked the spider story in Language Arts second grade. Unfortunately, I think he went back to it three times and didn't do new lessons! That's one thing I would change - once you've done a lesson, it should be checked off and the next lesson should be highlighted. You have the ability as the parent to set up lesson plans, but the student is still able to skip around and choose the lessons they want to do that day. I think that would create gaps or holes of some kind if it's building on foundations. I just think his time would have been better spent if he had known to go to the next lesson.

Canon loved the math program, as well. There is a story behind each lesson, and he got to watch the story unfold as he progressed through the problems. There are fun characters in all the lessons, like a student with a robot best friend, and the dog, Ruff Draft! Canon enjoyed these lessons, and he thought the money lessons were the best!

Here is an example from the second grade math site. That grade learns about money, graphing, multiple digit addition and subtraction, and fractions.

I had Chloe do some science lessons. Now this was my favorite program! She did one lesson in particular that I really enjoyed watching with her. One thing about online curriculum that I've always been concerned about is that they'd be in front of the computer and not doing any hands on lessons. With T4L, they are built right in! About half way through the lesson, it told Chloe to go get a pencil, paper, and a coin. She then had to draw both sides from memory. She learned about hypotheses, collecting data, qualitative and quantitative analysis, and much more - all in about a 20 minute lesson. I was very impressed. I could see us using the science program a lot. (One reminder: this is a secular curriculum. While we didn't come across any issues or conflicts concerning our personal beliefs, they will not be teaching from a creationist or biblical point of view).

However for us, the price is just not in our budget. With four kiddos, we have to keep costs low in all areas to homeschool. We combine many subjects so the kids are learning together, and I want to be involved more directly at this age. Personally, I'm not willing to let them be on their own for 3-4 hours a day with a computer as their teacher, at least not yet. So if we were to use it, it would be as a supplemental source - not a full curriculum. And as a supplement, I find it too expensive. I think this would be a great alternative for families that have only one child. I also understand that some families don't have the budget constraints that we have, so it could be seen as a value to them. I think the lessons are great, and the parent tools are very helpful. If you fit either of those categories, or are just interested in seeing if it would be a fit for your child, I encourage you to check out T4L. I am so glad I did!

** To check out more Time 4 Learning reviews, from my fellow TOS bloggers, click here.

**Disclaimer: I received a 30-day free trial from Time 4 Learning via TOS Homeschool Crew in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions stated are my own and my children’s.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

What a great weekend we've had! It actually started Thursday for us, with the opening of Dove Season. We had friends here at the crack of dawn and back at dusk for four days straight; along with the sound of shotguns was the laughter and talk of good friends. The kids have always been our "bird dogs", chasing after our kills for us. But this year, the oldest ones of the bunch - Logan, Connor, Trey and Gavin - are now counted among the hunters. Yes, we still had them get our birds (which they love doing, by the way!), but they also got to tell the younger ones to go get theirs for them. It's a coming-of-age thing for rednecks like us! ;)

Switching gears, Connor and Chloe and I headed to their homeschool orchestra orientation Friday morning after hunting (I have to instill a little culture in them!). Chloe has decided on the violin, and Connor had to purchase a xylophone. He already has drums, but they require a year of bells first. He wasn't too thrilled to learn that, and I didn't really understand why, until we found the xylophone. All the time he'd been fretting and fussing about playing bells, he thought he'd be playing LITERAL hand bells! Once he understood that the glockenspiel and the cymbals would be a part of his training, he was much more excited. They are both happy and ready to start in two weeks.

Friday night was Logan's birthday party. Jason and Steph were taking the boys, and I took the girls. I had promised Molly a mani-pedi day for her birthday last month, so I took her, Chloe and Hannah Saturday morning. And of course, I couldn't let them have all the fun - I got my toes pampered, too!! :D

Saturday, we all came back together for the big feed of all our kills - we had over 75 doves, cooked three ways. I don't think any of us were disappointed! A night of good food, good friends, and crazy kiddos is always going to put a smile on my face!

Sunday, we decided to go visit our Evergreen family. It had been nine months since we had attended service there, and I really expected to feel a little out of place. However, it wasn't like that at all. It was nice to see so many friends and catch up, and Dr. Dutile gave a wonderful sermon that blessed my heart. It's definitely not the same church we left, but I think that's ok. The people are starting over, and it was good to feel so welcomed back, if only for a visit. We went out to lunch with our friends, Bart and April, to celebrate Briana's 9th birthday. They are all growing up way too fast!

That afternoon, my niece Molly Elizabeth, was baptized. Casey, my brother-in-law, did the honors. It was a beautiful thing to watch, and I couldn't be prouder of my Moo. Casey and Tiff came out to the house after, and we enjoyed more dove and more visiting. Bart and April came out for a bit, and we swapped kids for another sleepover - this time, we got the boys! Braden always does well playing with our little guys, and there's hardly any fighting among them when he's here. That's always a plus! ;) We stayed up late watching movies and decided not to hunt this morning. I was glad to have a day to sleep in!

Today was a gloriously lazy Labor Day - as I think they should be. While we usually spend it on the boat with my family, we just had too much planned this year over the weekend. While I missed being on the lake, I thoroughly enjoyed just lazing about the house and doing as I pleased. We hadn't really planned on taking the day off school, but we ended up doing so anyway.

We all slept in, had a late breakfast, and I got to enjoy reading practically all day long. I read Tim LaHaye's new book, "Thunder of Heaven", from COVER to COVER. Do you know how long it's been since I've had a day to do that??? Too long, let me tell ya! And it was excellent. Not only that, but we also took advantage of the beautifully cool temperature and took a run on the trail together. We got back and Kelly grilled brats, and I made mac & cheese and green beans for lunch. Then I went back to my book. I took some movies back to the Redbox and grabbed McDonald's for dinner. Then I went back to my book. I baked cookies, then I read some more. I just finished it about an hour ago, and I am ready to start another one! Alas, but tomorrow is back to the real world, where I have obligations and - ick - housework that needs doing. Plus, a really exciting day - Co-op starts back up tomorrow! YAY!!!!

So it's time to get off here and get the kids' baths done. We'll have to find first day of school outfits, backpacks and all the supplies. That way, we can have bible, math and Spanish before flying out the door at 11:30. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone, and I can't wait to hear how everyone's Labor Day weekend was. That includes you, too! How did you celebrate?

Blessings, Ammy